The UN has estimated that 58,000 refugees have crossed the border from Myanmar to Bangladesh as Bangladeshi police have ignored government orders to control the border. The refugees have come from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where government security forces and Buddhist mobs have been accused of burning villages and inciting violence. Rohingya militants killed 12 of these security forces earlier this week, in an attack on more than 30 police stations, which may have sparked the most recent bout of conflict. The refugees seem to be fleeing destruction that has left their villages in ruins, according to Human Rights Watch. Meanwhile, government security forces claim the fires that destroyed the Rakhine villages were started by the Rohingya residents, but there is no evidence to support this. In October 2016, a Rohingya militant group did claim responsibility for fires similar to these, seemingly giving weight to the claims of the government security forces.
Furthermore, the group that has claimed responsibility for the attacks on police stations are called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The ARSA also conducted a similar attack in October last year. The group’s aim is to fight against the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in the mainly Buddhist Myanmar. The Rohingya have been described as “the world’s most persecuted people” by the BBC, and in November last year, the BBC published an article which stated that they had been informed by a senior UN security official that Myanmar had been conducting ethnic cleansing.
Moreover, the Rohingya are currently not allowed citizenship, after Myanmar’s government has claimed they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, meaning that they are not citizens of any country, which is just one example of the countless ways in which they have been persecuted. Then, on Tuesday, the UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said, “Decades of persistent and systematic human rights violations, including the very violent security responses to the attacks since October 2016, have almost certainly contributed to the nurturing of violent extremism” this extremism, comes in the form of the ARSA.
The attacks referred to by Al Hussein, occurred in late 2016, after an attack on Myanmar-Bangladeshi border posts, left 9 dead. The response from Myanmar’s government has been heavily criticized due to human rights violations, with claims of rape, burning down villages, and executions. Nonetheless, last year, a similar state-run investigation found no evidence of human rights abuses. In addition, last year a letter was published by leading human rights defenders, including Richard Branson, Malala Yousafi, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene in the “ethnic cleansing and human rights violations.” During the conflict, the government placed travel restrictions on aid agencies, leading to food shortages and malnutrition, prompting the letter to include a warning that “people may starve to death if they are not killed with bullets.” On Friday, Reuters published an article headlined “Myanmar refuses visas to UN team investigating abuse of Rohingya Muslims.”
With that said, usually the solution to violence is not violence, however, it seems that the government of Myanmar is unwilling to even acknowledge the existence of the problem. As such, it is the role of the UN to step in and defend the defenceless as the Rohingya have been persecuted for decades, and it is time we stood up for them.